Griffin Survivor + Catalyst Waterproof iPhone 5 Case Review


Oh yeah, Griffin's ruggedized Survivor case received a subaquatic upgrade recently making it impervious not only to drops, shock, vibrations, dirt and rain - but also to water submersion. Survior + Catalyst is its name, and this $70 waterproof iPhone 5 case was destined to live underwater and in extreme conditions. Using the Survivor name to its advantage, Griffin hopes to extend its original concept of what an ultra-tough iPhone case is all about with this new waterproof design which is surprisingly tougher than the original Survivor case.

Summertime is in full effect, and you're probably looking around for that one case to live with for the next few months. Trouble is, not all cases are good enough to use. Maximum protection always starts with waterproofing when it comes to protecting our gadgets, and over the years there have been numerous attempts at making the best waterproof iPhone case, however, we've yet to find that perfect case which can balance protection with unhindered functionality and everyday usability. We're here to put Griffin's ultimate iPhone 5 case through our relentless reviewing criteria. The Survivor + Catalyst is Griffin's new toughest case with an unpretentiously sleek design, but is it any good?


The Survivor + Catalyst is a two-part case like all waterproof iPhone cases. Inside the packaging you will find a straight waterproof headphone adapter which is needed when wanting to plug in a pair of headphones or a 3.5mm audio cable due to the deeply recessed port opening caused by the waterpoof case design, as well as a wrist lanyard that attaches to the bottom right corner of the case. 


Griffin claims the Survivor + Catalyst is the easiest-to-use waterproof case, I'm not sure what they mean by that exactly but that isn't very true. First, you start with putting the iPhone into the front side of the case followed by the back panel which features a rubber O-ring around it that snaps the case closed using both friction caused by the waterproof seal as well as the two plastic latches on either side. While you can simply pull the case apart by grabbing onto one of the plastic latches without requiring a coin to unsnap the case open, getting the iPhone out of the case isn't very easy and consists of you shaking the case profusely until your iPhone drops out. You'll desperately want to press your iPhone out through the integrated screen protector but that can ruin it very easily.


Let's get one thing out of the way first, yes the Survivor + Catalyst case is very much and totally waterproof. In fact, it's fully waterproof up to 10 feet (3 meters) which is impressive when compared against top competitors like the LifeProof Fre, Nuud and Seidio Obex cases which all have a 6.6 feet limitation. There's something peaceful about knowing you could take your iPhone with you to the beach, pool and the hot tub knowing full well you could keep it in your pocket even when you take a plunge under water without damaging it. Being able to take video under water is of course a priceless and joyful experience. And it's even a lot less expensive than having to purchase a standalone waterproof camera which you would then have to carry around with you. Your family vacation memories will forever be indebted to your underwater footage capturing skills.


To protect the iPhone 5 against drops, shock and vibration, the Survivor + Catalyst is made with a strong polycarbonate frame and internally lined with a TPE rubber bumper. Nothing really shock-absorbing covers the front or back portions of the case other than the hard polycarbonate shell of the case which is surprising yet also lines up with most of the waterproof cases we've reviewed.


Part of the TPE bumper also extends to form the integrated home button cover which is very tactile and easy to press I might add. The logo on it obviously belongs to the Catalyst Lifestyle brand and not Griffin, but who really cares? As long as the case performs its duty, I couldn't care less about the partnership between these two case companies.


Turning the Survivor + Catalyst case to its side we see two integrated and responsive volume buttons along with a clever silent switch toggle that rotates back and forth to activate the switch without actually having to unscrew it to reach the iPhone switch itself which is a nice touch I can appreciate. A similar integrated button covers the iPhone 5's sleep/wake button, but is the least tactile out of the three buttons throughout the case.

The camera and LED flash are separated from one another so that using the LED flash at night does not cause any interference with the images taken. And while Griffin boasts no special anti-reflective glass camera element like the one found in Seidio's Obex, I've found no problems with taking clear and sharp photos with the Survivor + Catalyst case.


Sadly finding a way around implementing a non-deeply recessed headphone port on these waterproof cases is a work in progress. On a positive note, the watertight screw plug is held securely attached to the case by a rubbery flap so you won't end up losing it like you can with other waterproof cases. To use headphones with your iPhone you will need to use the included waterproof 3.5mm adapter which screws into the port. The adapter is indeed compatible with headsets and in-line remote controls. In order to charge and sync your iPhone using the Lightning connector cable. The connector port is secured by a plastic watertight latch which is held in its locked position very tightly so that it will not suddenly open all on its own. Now is the time to forget about using a dock with your iPhone 5 because it ain't going to happen so long as this case is on it.


Design wise, the Survivor + Catalyst stands out as being the first to of its kind to use a clear plastic construction around the iPhone. It's got this really cool looking see-through design which showcases the inner parts of the case along with the majority of iPhone 5 which results in this bumper-like color element. The watertight O-ring around the backside of the case and interior rubber bumper lining around the iPhone are visible through the clear casing giving the design its color accents from the inside instead of the outside.

Our Survivor + Catalyst case is obviously black on top of a black iPhone 5, which is nothing really interesting as there's no contrast. But when using other colors with a black or white iPhone 5, the Survivor + Catalyst case pops its unique looking cherry for all to see. As of now, you'll find the Survivor + Catalyst case only in clear black with more colors to come next year unfortunately. So your best chance of showing off your iPhone would be to use a white one.


The see-through back reveals most of the two-tone design of the iPhone 5 with the center being recessed to keep the clarity of the plastic in pristine condition. Why? Because if you look carefully you'll see that the plastic casing around the iPhone scratches very easily because of the slick surface and nature of the smooth polycarbonate material. Scratched up clear plastic ends up looking terrible after a while.

The camera and LED flash are separated from one another so that using the LED flash at night does not cause any interference with the images taken. And while Griffin boasts no special anti-reflective glass camera element like the one found in Seidio's Obex, I've found no problems with taking clear and sharp photos with the Survivor + Catalyst case.


The biggest issue most of these cases are facing is with their integrated screen protectors and audio pass through membranes. So far we've concluded that LifeProof's Fre had the worst integrated screen protector while Seidio's Obex case featured a much improved screen protector technology which involved a grid of tiny dots that eliminated oil/water markings caused by the polyurethane screen sticking to the glass screen of the iPhone.

As for Griffin's Survivor + Catalyst case, it has the best integrated polyurethane-made screen protector that we have tested. The level of air gap between the iPhone's glass and the screen protector is extremely minimal as the film lays relatively flat up against the iPhone's screen. That means no more pillowing effect, and there isn't a significant resistive-touch feel when using the touchscreen. And because the screen film has this subtle matte texture underneath it, there isn't any sticking or oil streaking going on. That matte grainy texture underneath the integrated screen protector doesn't interfere with the smooth glossy surface you'll find swiping your fingers across. Typing on the keyboard with this case on feels great all things considered. Text legibility and sharp, Retina screen resolution aren't affected by the integrated screen protector either.

Using the Survivor + Catalyst case with iOS 7 does impede on some of the new interactive features which require swiping up from the bottom edge of the screen to bring up Control Center due to the way the case frames the iPhone's screen with a thick protective plastic bezel.


While we still find the Obex to perform better when testing out call quality, the Sruvivor + Catalyst case does have little rattle coming out of its earpiece when talking on the phone, however, the mic picks up audio very well with no complains from the caller on the other end. Audio from the bottom speaker comes out the back of the case's plastic enclosure as it vibrates sounding tinny and slightly muffled just like the Fre and Obex cases. Nothing surprising there unfortunately.


The slimmest waterproof cases for the iPhone 5 on paper are still being made by LifeProof, and although the difference in sizes is insignificantly tiny, the Survivor + Catalyst feels more bulky than the LifeProof Fre as well as the Seidio Obex because of its blocky shape and use of unpractical materials in its design. Both Seidio and LifeProof have done a really good job with designing the profiles of their cases so that they feel really slim in the hand, or as far as waterproof cases are concerned at least. Griffin on the other hand has done little to taper the edges on the Survivor + Catalyst, so it ends up feeling more bulky than other waterproof cases. It may have a unique clear design that tries to hide most of its bulk, but in practise the Survivor + Catalyst just ends up being the clunkiest waterproof case we've reviewed yet.


Speaking of clunky, there's something about the Survivor + Catalyst's glossy plastic body that rubs me the wrong way. It has no grip and it feels unpleasant to hold compared to the Fre and Obex cases which all have a mixtures of materials and textures that make them more comfortable to grip and use. Using only glossy plastic in such a big profiled waterproof case is one of the worst design decisions someone could have made. No wonder it comes with a wrist lanyard, you'll need it to secure the Survivor + Catalyst because it'll be your only hope for grip when wet.


As a waterproof case, Griffin's Survivor + Catalyst does its job really well. It even has a really good built-in screen protector which is hard to come by in these type of cases. However, this isn't the sort of case you'd want to be using on a daily basis. I would even go as far as saying that because of its all-glossy and sleek plastic construction, some people will hate the thought of using the Survivor + Catalyst case, and rightfully so. The design is inconsiderate to the user to the point where it'll make you feel like you're holding your iPhone inside an acrylic memorabilia display box, albeit a waterproof one.

While the integrated screen is better than most, there's still plenty of room for improvement and I think that is answered by the recently released LifeProof Nuud case. It on the other hand features an innovative integrated screen-less design which obviously fixes all of the issues we've all been having with these waterproof cases. But until we get our hands on that Nuud case, the Survivor + Catalyst is not a bad waterproof case. It does its job, and it does it proudly well. So it is a little bulky, and the sound coming out if the iPhone speaker isn't any better than all the rest of the waterproof cases we've reviewed, but we think its a pretty damn good waterproof case. Only problem is, it isn't good enough. 

Catalyst Lifestyle came up with a cool design but what surprises me is that Griffin contributed little from its expertise in making cases to ensure the Survivor + Catalyst has that reputable brand identity in it in terms of attention to detail. I'm not sure what Griffin added to the Survivor + Catalyst other than purchasing an idea and a finished product made by another company only to put its name on it. The lack of refinement and sensible design features which make a case great to use is a disappointment, especially when really great alternative options are out there. I dislike holding this case with a deep passion, hence our final verdict.